Some paddlers, including myself, will argue that “blade skills” or how you handle a kayak paddle and which one you choose, is as important, if not more, than which kayak you're in. Let’s start with paddle anatomy first. A paddle consists of a shaft (the long portion you hold in your hands) and two blades (on either end). Here is a breakdown of the main variables to consider and how the shafts and blades can vary paddle to paddle. Dan Arbuckle of Headwaters Kayak breaks this down nicely in his YouTube video, Everything you need to know about kayak paddles. Check it out for a more in-depth explanation of what you need to know!
The main consideration in a paddle is length. You can get everything else right but if your paddle is too short, you’re hosed. You’ll want to consider how wide is the widest point of the kayak. Obtain a paddle which has a shaft a little longer than that. If your shaft is too short, not only will it make it harder to reach the water with the paddle blade, it will also inadvertently make the paddler lean from side to side to reach the water with the blade. Remember in kayaking, leaning is no bueno, nose over navel to retain balance and avoid capsizes.
Offset Angle (feathering)
Some paddlers like to feather the angle that their kayak blades face to allow for smooth rotation while paddling and to decrease windage of the paddle when it’s out of the water. Some paddles allow for many degrees of adjustment, while other paddles allow zero adjustment at all. The angle is basically the difference in the offset of the right and left blade. To accommodate for headwinds, often a steep angle is enlisted. Functionally, the paddler will hold the shaft steady in the right grasp and in the left grasp, as the left blade drops, their thumb and forefinger will allow a rotation of the shaft (Arbuckle explains this well in the above YouTube video). Intermediate paddlers will often have at least a small offset in their blades.
Shape and material are the main elements here. Some folks prefer a higher volume on the bottom half of the blade (otherwise known as shoal cut), that way when they feather, there is more catch. This geometry is even making its way into blade shapes on oars for rowing. Others, with a strictly vertical forward power stroke might not fuss as much over this. REI’s Expert Adviceblog post on how to choose a kayak paddles breaks these theories down nicely.
Straight shaft versus bent shaft, two-to-four part breakdowns, small diameter and of course materials. Carbon, plastic or metal. The kayak paddle construction materials section of Paddling Magazine’s article, How to choose the best kayak paddle tells it like it is on everything from fiberglass to the incredibly rare traditional wooden Greenland paddles.
Did you know?
What’s your favorite paddle? Share it in the comments below.